Evaluating the RCA Livecast Q&A on Child Sex Abuse in Response to the Walder Scandal

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) should be commended for convening the panel “Jewish Community in Crisis: Responding to the Walder Abuse Case.” It happened Monday evening (1/3/22) As the organization with the most orthodox rabbis in America this was an opportunity to educate their members and the laity of their congregations. 

The leaders of the organization, President Benyamin Blau and Exec VP Rabbi Mark Dratch are well  informed about the issue of sex abuse. Before becoming EVP, R. Dratch formed an organization, JSafe, which offered consultation to organizations on the issue. His website was a font of useful material informed by state of the art knowledge from criminology, education, psychology and an extensive review of the rabbinic literature. It laid to rest the many absurd claims that halachah prevents using the police and courts to deal with abusers or that the prohibition on loshon horah precludes talking about abusers. I am sorry he has taken that site down. It had a depth of detail that has not since been duplicated elsewhere, at least not altogether in one site. Rabbi Binyamin Blau (not to be confused with his father, Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at Yeshiva University) is also someone with a good personal track record on dealing with issues of abuse.

But the fly in the ointment was their invited guest, Dr. Norman Blumenthal, a psychologist who directs Trauma, Bereavement and Crisis Intervention at OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services. Ohel has a long sordid history of abuse in its facilities and kowtowing to its largely haredi constituency and funders with their retrograde positions on abuse. They are quite rightly the defendant in multiple lawsuits about child sex abuse and their negligent conduct. . 

Rabbis Blau and Dratch asked the right questions and offered the right answers. But Blumenthal, oiy! Among his many bad takes there are the following

  • Focusing on kids being the ones who could prevent abuse rather than focusing on the larger context of communal policy.
  • Discussing steps to take in response to the Walder scandal without even thinking to mention removing his books (Something with R. Dratch had to fill in).
  • Focusing on molesting as being sexual in the mind of a child rather than assault. Again, R. Dratch had to make the point.
  • Showing complete ignorance of educational curricula in place in some schools for sex education and building confidence about boundaries. 
  • Equivocating about reporting to police. Saying of course it should be done but then using the common tactics to discourage it such as the claim that police are ineffective, child victims are poor witnesses, etc.
  • When Rabbi Blau asked when do we waive loshon horah prohibitions.Dratch intercepted  Blumenthal who is wandering into tangents, to say if it serves as purpose of protecting others (toelet)  kolo delo pasuk (persistent rumors),  or yesh raglayim l’davar (when there is substance to a complaint of abuse). R. Dratch then added on, keeping Walder books around is a trigger for survivors.

This is not all. Just a sampling of why Blumenthal was the wrong “expert. The event went better when it was just Rabbis Blau and Dratch talking to each other. My growing irritation as I listened was slightly assuaged when Rabbi Blau asked ‘what does it mean to stand up for vic and how do we as a community do that?’ 

Rabbi Dratch made the point that we need to be public about the issue so victims know that rabbis are on their side. We should not treat victims/survivors as “other” because they are all among us. Thus it is critical not to make abusers look good as unfortunately happened when papers described Walder as Z”L, got a large funeral with prominent hespedim, and prominent people [Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel] visiting the mourners. We have to fund help for survivors. 

The RCA plans to do more such broadcasts. I am looking forward to better invited experts.

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